Recount (2008) ***
Directed by Jay Roach
Plot: This made for HBO film spotlights the historical and often ridiculous weeks following the 2000 presidential election. The networks initially called
Review: Before 9/11, the 2000 election was the most fascinating event in recent American history. Who would have guessed that the electoral college would split right down the middle leaving everything in the hands of one state whose popular voting would show that less than 500 votes ended up as the difference between the two candidates. I remember sitting in my dorm room in college until waiting to find out who our new president was going to be. If I recall correctly, I woke up around to learn that Bush won. Then, around , I turned on the television to find that there was no winner. It was absolutely amazing to experience a curve ball on such a massive scale. Later that day, I bought the local
That night, I fell in love with politics, and I haven’t stopped paying attention since. My impression is that the legal challenges the Gore campaign put forward ultimately proved to be a colossal mistake on his part, making him a national joke. He’s since redeemed himself big time, becoming the world’s leader on environmental reform, winning an Oscar in the process due to the great documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Yet, for months and even years after Bush won the presidency (despite having a lower percentage of popular votes nationwide), Gore was an embarrassment both to himself and to the Democratic Party.
Therein lies my problem with Recount. This film clearly portrays the Gore campaign as the one with more integrity fighting always for justice. It’s too bad that this goes completely against the public’s judgement of the situation. Though Recount does often paint the Bush campaign as sympathetic, it shows Republicans as mean-spirited just as often. Therefore, this movie loses its historical importance as an objective glimpse into three of the craziest weeks Americans have ever and will ever experience.
All of the performances are fine, especially Kevin Spacey and Laura Dern. I enjoyed seeing so many great actors playing characters that entered and exited the plot. As a film, Recount is often entertaining, though I have to admit that there were too many characters to keep straight. I felt at times like I was watching stars arrive at a red carpet event. Hey, there’s Tom Wilkinson! Oh look, Richard Dreyfuss! Holy cow, there’s Dennis Leary, etc. A better film ought to be made about the 2000 presidential election. With such fascinatingly preposterous events as fodder, Recount should have been a major achievement. Instead, it’s only a minor one.
Mister Lonely (2008) *****
Directed by Harmony Korine
Plot: Brace yourself for this one folks! A lonely Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) in
Review: I absolutely ate this movie up! In general, I adore well-made off-beat films, though I’m put off by strangeness for strangeness’ sake. Harmony Korine, most likely a strange person if his films are any indication, wrote the controversial film Kids and went on to direct the uncomfortably bizarre Gummo and most recently Julien Donkey-Boy. Mister Lonely is his most accessible film to date, and yet, it’s absolutely weird when judged against even the most extreme off-beat mainstream movies. Still, I felt that every single wacky moment serves a comprehendible purpose in this film.
Though there are laugh out loud funny moments in Mister Lonely, Korine brilliantly contrasts them with a permeating sense of hopelessness regarding life’s ability to be easily fulfilling. Both the nuns and the impersonators live lives of profound disillusion, thinking that they have found what they are looking for in life’s journey. It is certaintly fun to see these characters experience true joy, but like life, the cruelty of existence can’t be held off forever.
While I don’t share Korine’s grim worldview, I do appreciate the way he perhaps exorcises his demons through this movie. Similar to Margot at the Wedding, Mister Lonely comes off almost as a cinematic therapy session. The difference though, is that Margot at the Wedding forces us to spend time with the most hateful characters imaginable, while Mister Lonely surrounds us for the most part with wonderfully pleasant caricatures. Other than Michael Jackson, who is a gentle, if not naïve, individual, and Marilyn Monroe, who is a spectacular human being but doesn’t know it herself, the other players in this film aren’t fleshed out. Still, collectively, they represent an optimistic worldview, which, according to Korine, is simply not accurate.
Mister Lonely is a perfect film for anyone who wants to confront that side of himself or herself which sometimes yearns to give up completely. You’d think a film like that would be a downer, but read the plot of Mister Lonely again and you’ll see that you’ll be smiling almost constantly while watching. And for those of you who have always wanted to see Queen Elizabeth in bed with Abraham Lincoln or giving the Pope a bath, then Mister Lonely is the film for you!
Year of the Dog (2007) ***1/2
Directed by Mike White
Plot: Lonely secretary Peggy (Molly Shannon) receives much of her happiness and fulfillment from her loyal dog Pencil. When Pencil dies suddenly, Peggy turns to those around her who are too preoccupied with their own relationships to provide her with the support she needs during this difficult time. At the veterinary hospital, an animal lover named Pier (Thomas McCarthy) notices Peggy, and after a few weeks, he calls her to see if she is interested in adopting a troubled German shepherd named Valentine. She meets Pier and Valentine at the same time and takes a liking to both. Unfortunately, when she tells Pier how she feels, he pushes her away saying that he can’t have a romantic relationship with a human being. Ummm… ewwww. Putting the beastiality allusions aside, Peggy then becomes an outspoken advocate for animal rights, which begins to get in the way of her job, her relationship with her sister’s family and her sanity. Eventually, Valentine, who has bitten her before, does something which forces him to be put to sleep. This stressor pushes Peggy over the edge causing her to adopt over thirty dogs and to seek revenge on her hunting-loving neighbor Al (John C. Reilly) whose chemicals Pencil ate that fateful night. Peggy hits rock bottom, and in her attempt to start over again, she learns a lot about who she is as a person and who she wants to become.
Review: Molly Shannon is a freak--plain and simple. She always looks like she’s trying to stop herself from running around and screaming like a maniac. Perhaps the greatest female physical comedienne in Saturday Night Live’s history,
That being said, I think my repulsion towards Peggy makes her a memorable and interesting character.
The final act of Year of the Dog doesn’t work at all. Mike White, who directed and wrote this film, goes too far in showing Peggy’s descent into potential madness. By the end, I feel like White intended that I laugh at Peggy’s expense, which left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Overall, though, there are enough really funny scenes to make Year of the Dog succeed. Its blend of light and dark humor often commingle nicely, and